Sunday, October 23, 2011

Looking Backward

I admit that at lease part of my desire for justice is often colored by a desire for revenge, but I try to keep that emotion under control. Schadenfreude is too easy, and usually means I'm willing to lower my integrity to match that of the people whose behavior I deem unacceptably egregious. I don't always succeed, of course.

I had the mixed emotion response to this article from Germany's Neues Deutschland with respect to the war crimes perpetrated by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and many others in that administration. I hesitated a bit before deciding to select this article from several others at Watching America this weekend. Ultimately I decided to cop to my lesser angel and then discuss just why we do need justice in the formal and civilized sense of that word when it comes to issues like torture.

George W. Bush standing in the dock – many people around the world would welcome such a decision. Murat Kurnaz would especially welcome it because the German-Turkish citizen had to spend five years in Guantanamo, the prison camp in legal no-man's land where the United States warehoused terrorist suspects from all over the world after the 9/11 attacks. Many spent years in custody there without being charged with any crime, enduring inhuman conditions that included torture.

That's why Kurnaz and three other ex-prisoners have demanded Bush be subject to a criminal investigation. Charges were reportedly filed against Bush yesterday during the ex-President's visit to Canada. Several days earlier, several human rights organizations asked that charges be brought against Bush since Canada is legally bound to do so as a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Bush is also said to have approved the arbitrary CIA kidnapping of suspected terrorists.

Many of us hoped that President Obama would at the very least decry those foul crimes committed in our names. Obviously we were disappointed when the new president who promised us "change" announced that there would be no investigations, no indictments, no trials, no open discussions of what should happen to leaders who openly and proudly flout international law and general standards of human decency. He wanted us to look forward, not backward. That's pretty much what President Gerald Ford told us when it came to an investigation into the Nixon administration's attempt to steal an election via burglary. As a result, some of the same mischief makers found their way back into public service, some of them in the Bush administration.

By refusing to hold the national leaders and those who wield the power in this country accountable for those actions which contravened the international treaties this nation is signatory to, it allows them and their successors free rein to continue such behavior. It means that they are above the law, all law. It means there is a class of people for whom constraints are neither possible nor desirable. It means the Bushes, Cheneys, Yoos, and Gonzaleses, like the Khadaffis, are untouchable until the crowds rise up and violently extract revenge.

In a sense, we are seeing that kind of justice-avoidance repeating itself today, this time in the economic arena. The people who brought us this economic disaster continue to operate in the same manner and to collect ever larger sums of money. There is no downside for their behavior. Why should they stop?

Apparently laws and codes of decent behavior are just for the little people.

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